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University of Arizona freezes hiring, weighs furloughs as pandemic hits school's finances
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University of Arizona freezes hiring, weighs furloughs as pandemic hits school's finances

From the April's Tucson-area coronavirus coverage: 1,200+ Pima County cases, stay-home order extended series
UA campus, COVID-19

In addition to a campuswide hiring freeze through the end of June. UA President Robert Robbins said the school is considering freezing salaries and furloughing some employees.

A campuswide temporary halt to hiring is the first major money-saving effort at the University of Arizona that could expand to salary freezes and furloughs as it braces for the financial fallout from the pandemic that could stretch over months, officials say.

No hiring through at least the end June is one of the “mitigation strategies” created by the UA’s Financial Sustainability Emergency Response Taskforce. The task force is made up of seven groups evaluating a swath of university finances, from intercollegiate athletics to capital projects.

“Everything is on the table for discussion. We have great people, many of whom are world-class experts in their fields, and we are tapping into their insights and ideas to address this challenge,” wrote Lisa Rulney, the UA’s senior vice president for business affairs and chief financial officer, and leaders of the task force.

In a letter to the UA community, UA President Robert Robbins said the “full spectrum of options” being discussed will include the hiring pauses, salary freezes and furloughs.

Campus leaders are trying to create a financial model around the effect of expected significant losses in tuition, Robbins said in a conference call Wednesday.

“I think people on this call know that 40% of our students are from outside of Arizona, and about 15% of those are international students,” Robbins said.

“Our net tuition revenue is derived greatly from out-of-state and international students, so we’re going to have significant shortfalls in the projections of what we’re going to have from tuition revenue.”

The UA administration’s discussion of hiring, salary freezes and furloughs in Robbins’ letter stuck out most to a longtime UA faculty member who asked not to be identified for fear it could lead to termination.

“Furlough means you still have your job, but no paycheck is coming in, so you’re really screwed,” the faculty member said.

The faculty member, who works in the College of Social and Behavioral Science, wondered how the university is addressing the financial impact of the pandemic not only to its workforce and operation, but also UA students.

“We’re overloaded with students who are traumatized, they’re depressed, they’re going down to student health, they have loans. I mean, they have so many things to deal with,” the faculty member said.

“Every day I’m doing crisis control with my students. The teaching faculty are really good and devoted at the UA, but they’ve overloaded us with so much stuff, we can’t even pay attention to what’s going on at the top.”

For one student, a rescinded financial aid offer from the UA arrived by email just two weeks after being accepted into a doctoral program in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

“Students were actually supposed to have another week to be able to respond to the UA about whether or not they accepted admission,” said the student, who did not want to be identified for fear of losing a graduate teaching position.

“So the graduate college decided that in order to save funding, they didn’t give students the amount of time they had guaranteed them.”

Fortunately, the student had already accepted an offer from another program.

Students seeking financial help typically work as research or graduate teaching assistants to receive stipends and tuition reductions.

However, other students might be less fortunate, especially those still mulling over school decisions.

“A lot of students aren’t necessarily coming from in-state and you have to think about the time commitment of a Ph.D. or a master’s program in addition to what it means to relocate,” the student said. “I mean, we have international students. We have out-of-city students. It’s not an easy decision to make.”

Summer classes at the UA will be conducted online at least through June 30.

The UA said it hopes in-person classes will resume in the fall, but depending on the persistence of COVID-19 and related social distancing, it could prompt many out-of-state and international students to rethink spending thousands of dollars to take classes from home.

Already, one English department program at the UA is preparing to offer fewer courses, citing an “extremely large decrease in international students and a large decrease in out-of-state students,” according to an April 2 email obtained by the Arizona Daily Star.

The program’s lecturers, those in nontenured or nontenure-eligible positions, will soon be given notice that their positions are being cut and there will be fewer administrators next year. Specific position cuts, however, have not been finalized.

Contact Star reporter Shaq Davis at 573-4218 or sdavis@tucson.com

On Twitter: @ShaqDavis1

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